CROMWELL — Right-hander Tyler Baldwin was back on the field for the top of the seventh inning before any of his Rocky Hill-Cromwell-Portland teammates could cross the first-base line.
The 5-foot-7 pitcher’s determination was on full display. All he wanted was to toe the rubber for three more outs and finish what turned out to be perhaps his best performance in a baseball uniform.
Baldwin fell one batter short of a perfect game in Wednesday’s 2-0 victory over Berlin at Fran Monnes Field. He allowed only a sixth-inning single, then got the next five outs in succession to keep RCP alive in the American Legion tournament’s sectional round.
“He’s been a rock the whole year,” RCP coach Paul Francis said. “It’s been a pretty unbelievable ride for him. He just fights and fights. He’s not the biggest kid, but he locates it well, and he’s not going to give in or let guys intimidate him.”
It was a study in economical pitching over 1 hour and 18 minutes. Baldwin threw 59 pitches. He allowed a grand total of five balls out of the infield. He induced 11 grounders, and RCP fielded each without an issue. He also struck out four.
Baldwin’s only close call with a walk occurred in the fifth inning, when the count went full on Ryan Smith. He struck him out on a fastball. Outside of that at-bat, Berlin did not face a hitter’s count better than 2-1.
“The kid did a very good job,” Berlin coach Gary Van Etten said. “He changed speeds well, but the best thing he did was he kept the ball down.”
RCP (16-9) continues its quest to advance out of pod play Thursday when it visits Southington (19-7) for possibly two games. Southington hasn’t lost in this stage of the tournament, meaning RCP would need to beat the 2018 state champion twice to keep its summer going.
“Last year we were in the same situation with Bristol,” Baldwin said, meaning Post 105 needed to win twice — and did — to extend its season. “This year, it’s Southington.”
After not reaching base in the first three innings against big Berlin right-hander Adam Bilinsky, RCP got on the board in the fourth.
Grant Collins led off with a line-drive single to center, the team’s first hard-hit ball off of Bilinsky. Nick Polizonis drove a 1-2 fastball deep into the gap in left-center, a hit that likely would have scored Collins if he better anticipated the ball falling.
Instead, Collins was held at third. Didn’t matter. He scored a few pitches later when Bryan Dinnis stroked a single into center field.
Austin Roy grounded to third for the first out. Berlin made the call to put Brett Thivierge on intentionally to load the bases and play for an out at home, but Bilinsky couldn’t find the plate. He ended up walking Cade Palladino on four pitches to force in RCP’s second run.
“Dinnis hit the ball hard,” Francis said. “We were ready to sacrifice after that, but Gary walks Thivierge. We had timely hitting, although tomorrow we’re going to have to hit a lot better than we did today.”
Baldwin got the first out of the sixth before Gianni Fanelli, one of team’s top players whose season was derailed by injury, was sent in to pinch hit. He saw a ball over the plate and drove it into center, where it fell in front of David Dewey and gave Berlin its only base runner of the game.
“I was glad with how he (played) it,” Baldwin said. “I’d rather have the ball drop than him stretching for it and it getting past him. That hitter is fast. It could have been worse.”
Fanelli was forced at second when the next batter, Cam Murphy, grounded to Roy at short. Baldwin got another ground ball, a roller to second off the bat of Justin Piskorski, to end the inning.
“Obviously, the whole game was about protecting the lead, and nothing changed with the hit,” Baldwin said. “The next batter, I stayed in the same rhythm and did the best I could with him.”
Bilinsky allowed only seven baserunners and four hits, two by Polizonis.
Van Etten lamented a rash of injuries that knocked out three of his best hitters for almost the entire season. Berlin finished 14-13.
“I’m happy with the year we had with the players who were healthy enough to play,” he said. “We got into the tournament and won a game. We’ll reload for next year.”